Diseases and car accidents would be reduced if the ‘apex predators’ were reintroduced, the sanctuary owner claims
Killian McLaughlin, who founded and runs the Wild Ireland Wildlife Park in Inishowen, was speaking after a number of accidents involving deer and motorists.
Mr McLaughlin believes the reintroduction of the wolf as the “apex predator” in Ireland will help control the increasing number of deer.
The former solicitor who now spends all his time running his wildlife park unique wild animal sanctuary – which has wolves, bears, lynx and wild boar – says the reintroduction of wolves could not only prevent road accidents but also prevent the spread of Lyme disease and TB as well as save the many hundreds of acres of crops damaged by deer each year.
Sika deer numbers are causing particular alarm among wildlife enthusiasts as they chew the bark from trees, damaging Ireland’s dwindling native woodlands.
“We are only seeing the impact of deer in Ireland now that they do not have a predator. Something has to be done to stop the deforestation they are causing, as well as the spread of Lyme disease, the damage to crops and of course the increasing number of road accidents we are seeing in places like Donegal,” said Mr McLaughlin.
He said he is not simply talking about releasing a pack of wolves into the wild to allow a “free-for-all” but suggests a managed approach, pointing to similar programmes across Europe.
The last recorded wild wolf to be killed in Ireland was in Co Carlow in 1653 after Oliver Cromwell put a bounty on the heads of the animals in a bid to wipe them out.
However, wolves now exist in the wild across most of mainland Europe including Belgium, Italy, Poland, Spain and France and are not considered a danger to either animals or humans.
Mr McLaughlin said there are very few recorded incidents of wolves attacking people, as the creatures prefer to stay away from humans.
He points to the increase in Lyme disease in Ireland and suggests sick deer are a major part of the spread of the disease.
“With respect, I would much rather be in a car accident with a deer than be struck down by Lyme disease. It is a terrible disease. The tick bites the deer, then bites the person and can spread this awful disease,” he said.
Sick and lame deer will be the animals taken by wolves if reintroduced into the wild in Ireland, Mr McLaughlin said, meaning diseases such as TB will also be kept under control by a planned reintroduction of the species.
He added that a study in America in which wolves were introduced in Wisconsin showed a decrease of 75pc in road accidents involving deer because wolves were shown to hunt along the highways and byways of the road system.
“I appreciate that there is a historic fear of wolves and what they stand for and the fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “The data is there to prove that wolves can co-exist in countries like Belgium which has over 11 million people and a smaller area size than Ireland.
“Could you imagine the benefits for eco-tourism for a place like Donegal if wolves were reintroduced? It could have huge benefits not just from a financial point of view but also from an education perspective.”
However, getting people to open their minds and hearts to wolves could be a difficult prospect if the divided reaction on Mr McLaughlin’s Wild Ireland Facebook page is anything to go by. One local county councillor has already shut his door to the proposed plan.
Michael McClafferty from Falcarragh said the idea was a “non-runner” as far as he was concerned. He said farmers had enough problems with domestic dogs worrying sheep, never mind wolves.
“No livestock will be safe or the public alike,” he said. “I will fight this idea all the way.
“We can fix the fences in Glenveagh National Park and bring in plenty of shooters to cull the deer and that will go a long way towards keep the number of deer under control. Wolves won’t.”